Despite how frantically Jasmine was pressing the button, the elevator doors failed to close in a timely manner, allowing the dreaded Leo Mathers to slide into the enclosed space. As they stood in silence, the hair on the back of Jasmine’s neck stood up and an involuntary shudder ran through her body.
“Wow,” Leo said, breaking the silence.
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
Jasmine turned to face him with a glare. “No, tell me. What?”
“I just didn’t realize you hated me that much, Winters.”
“Not everything is about you, you know.”
Leo smiled. “Could have fooled me.”
Jasmine crossed her arms and leaned against the wall of the elevator as she stared up at the floor indicator, distinctly aware of his gaze still pointed at her. When he still didn’t look away, she clenched her jaw. “What?”
“Nothing. You were pressing the close button, right?”
“Of course I was. I wanted to avoid this exact scenario.”
“And why is that?”
She scoffed. “You’re joking right? It’s not exactly a secret that we don’t like each other.”
“What gave you the impression I didn’t like you?” the genuine confusion in his voice was enough to get Jasmine to second guess her own assertion.
Rather than answering the question, however, she just shook her head and turned her attention back to the floor indicator. This had to be the slowest elevator in the world. She only had four more floors to go until she could leave his presence, but then the elevator jerked and came to a sudden stop.
“Oh, my god. No, no, no. No, this can’t be happening.” Jasmine started pressing the emergency button, probably a little too hard. “Is this thing even working?”
A male voice came through the speaker on the panel. “What seems to be the problem?”
“The elevator is stopped,” Leo said.
“Oh, shit. Um, well, that’s going to take a bit of time to resolve,” the man said. “Just hold tight, we’re going to call maintenance.”
“Can you please hurry? I’m very claustrophobic,” Jasmine said, flexing her hands.
“We’ll try. I’ll let you know when we have an update.”
Leo sighed and slid to the floor, where he pulled out his phone. “If you have service, you might want to let someone know what’s going on.”
Jasmine took a deep, shaky breath and sat down on the floor as well. When she pulled out her phone, it had no bars. “Shit. Of course not. Do you have service?”
“Yeah. Want me to text anyone for you?”
“Just text Alex, please. I know you have his number.”
He nodded and quickly typed out a message before pocketing his phone. “Since we’ll probably be in here a while, how about a distraction? Why don’t you think I like you?”
“Are- are you serious?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
She scoffed. “First of all, this entire topic is ridiculous, but more importantly, because of our entire history.”
“What do you mean?” His brows scrunched together.
“You have always acted like you’re superior to me or something, that I wasn’t worth your time,” she said.
Leo shook his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Alex! Why won’t you and Leo let me play?”
Jasmine had always been best friends with her cousin. It was them against the world. At least, it had been before Leo came along. Leo had transferred to their school in the third grade, so now Jasmine had been left out of the soccer games and playing spies for a solid month. The boys had become best friends, which would have been fine if they included her, but they didn’t and she was absolutely sick of it.
Alex’s face filled with pity as he looked at his cousin. “I play with you all the time at Granny’s house, and at your house, and at my house, and-”
“But you never play with me at school anymore.”
Leo laughed. “But you’re a girl! You couldn’t keep up with us!”
Jasmine’s freckled face turned vermilion as she chased after Leo and tackled him to the ground. Punch after punch was thrown until Alex had to pull his cousin off the gangly blond so she wouldn’t do any permanent damage.
“You’re crazy!” Leo shouted at her. “Get away from me, you freak!”
As Leo recalled the memory, his face paled. “Shit, I really was an ass, wasn’t I?”
“You threw a mean right hook.”
Jasmine tried to suppress a smile as she said, “Still do.”
He laughed and nodded. “I believe it. But anyway, that was just when we were kids.”
“Oh no, there’s definitely more. The unpleasant history between us did not end in the third grade, I guarantee it.”
Leo sat with Alex in the high school cafeteria, picking at the food on his lunch tray with disinterest. Jasmine had just passed by to give Alex a quick hello before she joined some of her friends at an adjacent table.
“Dude, why do you never say anything when Jas comes over?” Alex asked before he took a bite of his sandwich.
“She’s your cousin, not mine.”
Alex swallowed before he said, “Right. She’s my cousin and you’re my best friend. It wouldn’t kill you to be friends with her, or at least polite.”
Leo glanced over at the redhead, who was, somehow, simultaneously reading, eating, and talking with her friends, before he turned to face Alex again. “She and I have nothing in common, except for you.”
“What could you possibly mean by that?”
Alex shrugged. “She’s smart, like you. She’s funny, like you. She-”
“Okay, enough.” Leo shook his head before he spoke again, not realizing that Jasmine could now hear him as the room had quieted somewhat. “She’s irritating beyond all belief. I know she’s your cousin, but I can barely believe you two are even related. Yeah, she’s smart, but she’s too competitive about everything and she gets mad about everything! I could never be her friend, I’d go nuts.”
“You’ve never even tried,” Alex countered. “Not even when we were kids.”
Leo shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. How could I be friends with someone who drives me that crazy? And why would I want to?”
Jasmine’s eyes began to water as she listened to Leo’s insults and she stood up from her table, gathering her things. Then, she walked over and said, “It’s a good thing you and I will never be friends then, isn’t it?” The tears threatened to spill over, so she rushed away before Leo could say anything.
“Look what you did,” Alex groaned.
“It’s not like I knew she was going to cry! She usually starts yelling,” Leo said, his voice trailing off.
Alex rolled his eyes at Leo’s lame excuse before he got up to chase after and comfort his cousin, leaving Leo sitting alone at the table with Jasmine’s friends glaring at him from a distance.
Jasmine had neglected to mention the crush that was effectively shattered in that moment, but the heat pooling into her cheeks gave her away.
“So that’s why you cried.”
“Yep. Thanks for that, by the way.”
Leo hid his face in his hands and groaned. “I’m such a dick.”
She nodded. “Not gonna argue with that one.”
“I’m sorry, Winters.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
He shook his head. “No, I mean it. I was a dick. I treated you like shit, I kinda stole Alex from you-”
“To be fair, he is my cousin. I see him all the time,” Jasmine interrupted.
“Still. I was dealing with my parents’ divorce and I took it out on you, and then that kinda just became the routine. I’m sorry, Jasmine,” Leo said.
The sincerity of his words overwhelmed her and she started laughing. “Wow, a real apology from Leo Mathers. I must be dreaming.” When he just stared at her, she cleared her throat and brushed some hair out of her face. “Sorry. Thank you. I accept your apology. I know that must have been difficult to say.”
“And difficult to hear, apparently.”
Jasmine smiled. “You’re not wrong.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Jasmine’s chest tightened and her breathing became shallow. The elevator still had not moved and it had been ten minutes. As she stared up at the floor indicator, she chewed on her bottom lip and rocked back and forth while hugging her knees. Leo watched her, not wanting to call attention to it, but realizing if he didn’t take her mind off of their situation, she would be experiencing a full-blown anxiety attack.
“So, what do you do?” he asked.
He shrugged. “What do you do? Your job.”
Jasmine cleared her throat. “I’m a social worker. I work with people in hospice mostly. What about you?”
“I’m in med school.”
“Do you like it?” she asked.
Leo shrugged again. “What’s not to like? Death and disease, no sleep, my hair is going grey, and it’s costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
She lowered her knees and said, “It doesn’t sound like you’re happy.”
“Why does that matter?”
“Because it’s your career.”
“Your career is what you plan to be doing until you retire, and if you’re not happy with it, then you’re going to spend the majority of your life unhappy,” Jasmine said. “Why are you doing this if it’s not what you want to do?”
“My dad. He’s paid for all of my schooling on the condition that I become a doctor,” he explained.
She frowned. “And what would you rather be doing?”
He shook his head with a smile. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Because it doesn’t,” he said. “Just because I want to do something else doesn’t mean I can just go and do it.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re an idiot. What’s stopping you?”
“My dad, I just told-”
“Besides your dad, what’s stopping you from dropping everything you don’t want in your life and pursuing something different? Nothing. You have money, you have a good education, and you’re twenty-eight years old. You have your whole life ahead of you and can change at any time you want, but you’re too big of a wuss to do anything about it.”
Leo blinked his eyes in surprise. “Wow. Didn’t hold back at all.”
“Am I wrong?”
“No, not really. But what about you? Isn’t there anything in your life that you don’t like but you’re too scared to change?”
She let out a deep sigh and then laughed. “I mean, sure, but it’s more the stuff that I can’t control.”
“What do you mean?”
“My rel ationship status? That’s pretty dependent on other people, and my family just loves to remind me that I’m the only single one left. All my cousins are either in relationships or married, and even Henry is about to propose to his girlfriend,” Jasmine said.
Leo whistled. “Damn. Your little brother, huh?”
“Exactly. My little brother.”
“So, what, they’re just harassing you about being single?”
Jasmine shook her head. “Not harassing, really, but it comes up more than enough to make me uncomfortable. They’re always trying to set me up on dates, none of which end well, and they look at me with, I don’t know, pity or something when I go to family events without a date.”
Leo raised his eyebrows. “Really? Even Alex?”
“No, not him,” she said. “He’s the only one who doesn’t, honestly.”
Before Leo could respond, the speaker came on in the elevator. “How are you guys doing in there?”
“Still desperate to get out. How’s it going?” Jasmine asked.
“Maintenance is here and they’re estimating about twenty minutes to fix it,” the man said.
Leo nodded, despite no camera for anyone to see him do so, and said, “Sounds good.”
Jasmine grimaced and settled back against the elevator wall. “Thanks.”
The speaker shut off and Leo nudged Jasmine with his foot. “That’s not too bad of a wait, right?”
“I swear to God, if you just jinxed it-”
Leo laughed and knocked on the floor. “Better?”
“That’s not wood, so no,” Jasmine said with a smile.
“Hey, are you sure? There is carpeting, you don’t know,” he said.
“Elevators are made of metal, dummy.”
“Hey, it’s the thought that counts anyway, right?” Leo winked.
The pair of them continued to talk until the maintenance crew announced they were going to test out the elevator, which began to move again. Jasmine couldn’t help but laugh giddily and hug Leo, who was all too glad to rest his cheek on top of the woman’s head.
When the doors opened, they separated awkwardly and Jasmine smiled. “Hey, um, thanks for keeping me sane in there. It wasn’t totally terrible.”
“No problem,” he said. “And, hey, if you ever want to have a not totally terrible time over coffee, just text me.”
“I don’t have your number.”
He smiled and held out his hand. “Here, I’ll put it in for you.”
Once she got her phone back, she started laughing when she saw the contact name was ‘Former Asshole’, and that he had texted himself from her phone with a poop emoji. “That’s appropriate.”
“Where were you headed anyway?” he asked.
“I was going to go visit a client. We have some paperwork to go over, so I was going to drop by to see him. How about you?”
“I was heading home before school,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Should I ask where you were leaving from or am I better off not knowing?”
Leo’s smile was wider than Jasmine would have liked. “Glad to know you’re interested in my comings and goings, Winters. Sorry to disappoint, but I was actually here to see my mom. She lives in this building.”
“Huh. What floor?”
“Twelfth. We got on at the same floor, remember?”
“Wow,” Jasmine said, raising her eyebrows. “I never even realized she lived in my building.”
He shrugged. “She just moved in a few weeks ago.”
They walked outside together and Jasmine took a deep breath before saying, “Well, I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
“Maybe even for a coffee?”
A few days later, Jasmine sat around the table at her parents’ house for dinner, along with her brother and his now-fiancée Caitlin, Alex and his girlfriend Theo, her Aunt Gwen, and her grandmother. While they ate, conversation lulled, though to Jasmine’s irritation, Alex quickly filled in the silence.
“So, guess who I got a text from a few days ago, telling me that he and my favorite cousin were stuck in an elevator together?” Alex asked before he winked at her and took a sip from his wine glass.
She set down her fork and leaned over the table. “I’ll murder you.”
“Who?” asked their grandmother.
“Leo Mathers,” Alex said.
Henry started laughing. “I thought you hated him, Jas.”
She sighed and leaned back against her chair. “His mother happens to live in my building, we got stuck in the elevator together. Turns out he’s not as much of an ass as he used to be, but that’s it.”
“Good,” her father grumbled into his wine glass.
“Richard,” Jasmine’s mother, Helena, said disapprovingly before she turned her attention back to her daughter. “Leo Mathers is a nice young man. He’s becoming a doctor, you know.”
“Yeah, I know, Mom.”
“Maybe you two could-”
“No, no, no, just stop.” Jasmine shook her head. “Just because I’m single, doesn’t mean I’m going to date just anyone.”
Richard nodded. “Good girl. Don’t be letting him get the wrong ideas. You can do better than a Mathers, easy.”
“Rich, stop it,” Helena chastised her husband, a glare pointed in his direction.
He put his hands up defensively. “What? He’s a bad influence.”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Really? You’re holding a grudge against a man half your age because you don’t like his father. Real mature.”
“Not my fault who the kid’s dad is.”
Helena sighed. “Yes, I know. But it is your fault that you continue to act like a child. Honestly, that was thirty years ago. Get over it.”
“Get over it.” Helena looked away from her husband and over to her sister-in-law with a smile. “Gwen, what do you think about Leo? You’ve spent more than enough time with him at your house.”
“He’s very sweet. Even when he was a kid, he’d spend the night with Alex and he’d offer to wash dishes or something. I’ve never had an issue with him, aside from the typical adolescent boy crap, but he grew out of that and into a fine young man,” Gwen said. “If he were my age, or if I were his age…”
“Ew, Mom,” Alex said. “Way to make it weird.”
Both having met Leo, Theo and Caitlin shared knowing glances and then waggled their eyebrows at Jasmine. Alex nudged Henry and seemed to be placing a bet on how long it would be until she started dating Leo.
“Let’s change the subject,” Jasmine said, breathing a sigh of relief when there was no resistance to the suggestion.
The dinner continued with the standard family bickering before Jasmine made it home to her cluttered apartment. As she got off the elevator and walked down the hall, she wondered which apartment was Astrid Mathers’, which inadvertently led her to think about Leo.
She pulled out her phone and stared at the message he had sent from her phone, smiling slightly. What was the harm in a coffee?
Jasmine sent Leo a text with the meet-up information and before she knew it, it was Friday at four and she was sitting across from him, coffee in hand. “So, uh, this is weird.”
“Why?” he asked before he took a sip of his own coffee.
“Well, I mean, it’s not like we’ve spent very much time together without Alex as a buffer,” she said. “I don’t know. It’s just weird.”
Leo smiled and shook his head. “It’s only weird if you make it weird. So, what did you want to talk about?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just figured I’d take you up on your offer.”
“Well, in that case, tell me about your week.”
Glad not to initiate the conversation topic, she started talking about the client she had intended to meet the day of the incident. From there, they started talking about the nature of disease and old age, then Leo’s experience in med school.
“I guess I like the idea of healing people,” he said.
“Yeah, but you don’t love it,” she said. “You never told me what you do want to do. What is it?”
Leo took a deep breath. “Okay, but you have to swear not to laugh. Only Alex knows.”
Jasmine nodded and leaned forward. “Tell me.”
“I like the idea of opening a bakery.”
“Really? Like breads and cakes, cookies and stuff?”
She smiled and leaned back into her chair. “Really? I never would have expected that, but it’s not a terrible idea. Why baking?”
Leo shrugged. “I kinda got it from your grandmother. She showed me how to make a bunch of stuff, and it’s fun and kinda therapeutic. I don’t know. She says I’m good.”
“Well, if Granny says you’re good, you probably are,” Jasmine said. “Then again, it seems like my whole family is Team Leo.”
“Yep. We had dinner yesterday and Alex started talking about the elevator, so everyone just had to put their two cents in.”
Leo raised his eyebrows and his smile widened. “And what did they have to say?”
“That you’re a nice person, that my Aunt Gwen apparently has the hots for you and would date you or something if you two were the same age, and that I should date you,” Jasmine said.
“Hmm. Not a bad idea.”
“It’s not a bad idea. Us dating.”
Jasmine stared at him, her eyes widening and her face beginning to pale. “Come again? You didn’t actually just say that, did you?”
“Hold on, just let me explain,” he said. “I don’t mean for real. But you were saying that you’re sick of them trying to set you up and that they’re constantly getting on you about being single, right?”
“So, what if we pretended we were dating?”
She scoffed. “What?”
Leo took a quick sip of his coffee. “They’d stop asking you about your lack of a dating life because they’d see you were with someone, then when we ‘break up,’ they’d give you some space so you could get over me.”
“And what are you supposed to gain out of that? I can’t imagine pretending to be my boyfriend will benefit you in any way,” she said.
“Believe it or not, I need a date to a wedding. And you know my reputation, so it would be nice to have a real date instead of a one-night stand.”
“Wait, whose wedding?”
“Leo, he barely proposed. How do you even know if you’re invited?”
He laughed. “I’m kidding. It’s one of my cousins on my mom’s side in a month.”
Jasmine sighed, “I don’t know. Doesn’t this feel kinda stupid? Pretending to date? How would that even work?”
“Well, we could always set some ground rules if that makes you feel better,” he said.
“It would, actually,” she said. “First of all, we don’t tell Alex.”
“Done. He can’t keep a secret to save his life,” Leo said. “How about we have to go on a date at least once a week?”
“We have to convince people it’s a real relationship, right? People in real relationships go on dates,” he said. “You have to admit that not going on dates would raise some red flags.”
She groaned and nodded. “Fine.”
“And we should take at least one picture on every date so we have evidence that the relationship actually exists.”
“We should put a time frame on this,” she said.
He considered for a moment before he said, “Four months?”
“Deal. Three months and then we, what, stage a dramatic breakup?”
Jasmine crumpled up a napkin and threw it at him. “Why does it have to be dramatic?”
Leo grinned. “Because you’re obviously going to be desperately in love with me by then.”
“You wish. Okay, one more rule: if we get real feelings, we end this. And no sex. Also, I reserve the right to make more rules.”
“You’re ruining the fun, but okay,” he said, then held his hand out. “Let’s shake on it.”
She took his hand, surprised at how soft it actually was, and shook it. “Deal.”
“So, Jasmine Winters, will you go out with me?”
“I guess I have to say ‘yes,’ don’t I?”
“Yes, you do,” he said.